US slaps new sanctions on Venezuela regime as Russia ups support

Venezuela's self-proclaimed interim president Juan Guaido waves to supporters outside the Foreign Ministry in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (AP)
Updated 02 March 2019

US slaps new sanctions on Venezuela regime as Russia ups support

  • Four people were killed in the melee as Maduro's forces prevented the 178 metric tonnes of rice, beans and other food from crossing, with the leftist strongman seeing the aid as a pretext for a US-led invasion

WASHINGTON: The United States and Russia clashed Friday over how to assist ailing Venezuela, with Moscow pledging new relief channeled through President Nicolas Maduro and Washington slapping sanctions over the blocking of US aid it tried to force through the border.
A day after Russia and China vetoed a US and European resolution at the UN Security Council that called for unimpeded aid deliveries, Washington said it was targeting six Venezuelan military officers for stopping last weekend's US-led convoy.
Four people were killed in the melee as Maduro's forces prevented the 178 metric tonnes of rice, beans and other food from crossing, with the leftist strongman seeing the aid as a pretext for a US-led invasion.
"We are sanctioning members of Maduro's security forces in response to the reprehensible violence, tragic deaths and unconscionable torching of food and medicine destined for sick and starving Venezuelans," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.
The six include Major General Richard Jesus Lopez Vargas, the commander of the Venezuelan National Guard. The sanctions freeze any assets in the United States and penalize US financial dealings with the officials.
The United States also revoked the visas of 49 Venezuelan officials and their family members, the State Department said.
Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, whom Washington has recognized as interim president, had hoped to triumph in bringing in the stockpiles of food, which the United States coordinated with Colombia and Brazil.
Guaido has said 300,000 people could die without an influx of aid into Venezuela. The United Nations says 2.7 million Venezuelans have fled since 2015 as the socialist economy crumbles, with basic supplies out of reach to the masses.
More than 50 countries recognize Guaido as Venezuela's president -- but Maduro enjoys strong support from Russia, which is eager to challenge US interventionism, as well as China, which is concerned over the fate of billions of dollars Beijing has lent to Caracas.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, receiving Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodriguez in Moscow, said Russia was stepping up shipments of wheat and was considering sending more medical supplies after shipping 7.5 tonnes worth.
"We are very closely cooperating and coordinating all our steps in the international arena," Lavrov said.
"This has acquired special significance now that Venezuela is facing a frontal attack and unabashed interference in its domestic affairs," he said.
Elliott Abrams, the US special representative on the crisis, charged that Maduro's forces would turn Russian aid into a "political weapon" by providing it only to supporters.
"Obviously we are in favor of giving humanitarian assistance to Venezuela; we are not in favor of giving it to this corrupt regime," Abrams told reporters in Washington.
Lavrov voiced hope that international pressure would "cool hotheads in Washington" who he said are seeking military intervention in Venezuela.
He alleged that the United States was planning to buy small arms, mortar launchers and shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles from an "Eastern European country" and station them "close to Venezuela."
President Donald Trump has not ruled out military intervention in Venezuela, although even close US allies have said they would not support the use of force.
Republican Senator Marco Rubio, who has worked closely with Trump to seek Maduro's ouster, appeared this week to suggest a violent climax as he posted on Twitter two pictures of Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi -- one relaxed and smiling while in power, the other bloodied as he was lynched in an uprising.
Defying a travel ban by Maduro, Guaido went first to Colombia to try to bring in the aid and to meet with visiting US Vice President Mike Pence.
The 35-year-old political newcomer continued on to Brazil, where he met the new right-wing president, Jair Bolsonaro, and on Friday traveled to Paraguay.
Speaking to reporters in Brasilia on Thursday, Guaido said he would return home "at the latest on Monday" despite threats to arrest him.
Abrams said the United States was "very concerned" about Guaido's ability to return home safely and warned of a "very large reaction" if he is arrested.


India might resort to covert operations: Pakistan FM

Updated 17 August 2019

India might resort to covert operations: Pakistan FM

  • Qureshi praised the Security Council’s call to all parties to refrain from action that could aggravate the situation

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi warned that India might resort to a “false flag operation” to divert attention from Jammu and Kashmir following a UN Security Council meeting on Friday to discuss the issue.

“To divert international attention, most probably India will resort to some false flag operation. We want to tell the international community that we have doubts about India’s intentions. We know their plans and the nation is ready for it,” he said.

In a letter to the Security Council on Aug. 13, Qureshi asked for an urgent meeting on Jammu and Kashmir after its special autonomous status was revoked by India. Indian-administered Kashmir has remained under lockdown, with phone and internet services suspended since the decision on Aug. 5.

Following the Security Council meeting Qureshi addressed a joint press conference with Pakistan army spokesman Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor, who said that Islamabad was ready to “defend any misadventures on the part of India.”

Pakistan’s Foreign Office had formed a special committee to discuss future action on the issue, Qureshi said.

Kashmir desks will be established at various Pakistani embassies around the world “in order to carry out effective communication on the matter,” he said.

“The committee on Kashmir has members from all concerned parties, including members of opposition parties.” 

Qureshi praised the Security Council’s call to all parties to refrain from action that could aggravate the situation.

“We achieved a milestone yesterday, which shocked India. The Kashmir issue was raised at a platform which is responsible for resolving the dispute,” he said.

The foreign minister commended the “indomitable and unbroken spirit” of residents in Indian-administered Kashmir, saying that despite the curfew Kashmiris came out of their houses on Friday to offer special prayers.

“It was a glimpse into their emotions, into what it will be like after the curfew lifts,” he said.

Qureshi said that world bodies have responded positively to Pakistan’s call to discuss the issue. “The Organization of Islamic Cooperation has called for an immediate end to the curfew,” he said.

Discussing India’s move to revoke Article 370 of the constitution, Qureshi said: “Pakistan does not recognize Article 370 of the Indian constitution, it is not our concern. Our concern is with the forceful change in Kashmir’s demographic and violation of the rights of the people of Kashmir.”

Meanwhile, Ghafoor said that the Pakistan army will respond to any act of aggression by India.

“Pakistan is a responsible state, but India has always threatened us. We are planning how to manage the threats from India,” he said.

“At present, the biggest issue in Jammu and Kashmir is human rights violations. The entire region has been turned into a prison,” Ghafoor said.

A former Pakistani ambassador to India, Abdul Basit, backed the foreign minister’s covert operation claim, saying that amid growing international pressure a staged terrorist attack by India could be used to divert attention from Jammu and Kashmir.

He said any direct attack on Pakistan by India would be a huge mistake. “They (India) might have worked out their strategies, but when the situation is so tense, it would not be wise to open another front. The situation will be clearer after the curfew is lifted, but I don’t see direct conflict anytime soon.”

Basit urged Pakistan to arrange an OIC foreign ministers summit in Islamabad as quickly as possible.

“Along with the summit, Pakistan should also hold a convention of Kashmiri diaspora in London or somewhere that can come up with a resolution. Pakistan should also deploy a special envoy on Kashmir,” he said.